Framed by the death of Chairman Mao and the student protests in Tiananmen Square, Horko’s novel tells the story of Melissa; a woman from the UK whose life is tied to the events in China due to her relationship with activist Jianguo and the birth of her son, Justin.
Through flashbacks we are told of Melissa’s experience living and studying in China as a young woman. Horko’s knowledge of the country imbues the story with an incredible richness and it is easy to vividly imagine the experience of foreign students here in the 1960s and 70s. You instantly become cocooned in Melissa’s story; her beliefs and values, her love for Jianguo and her fear as the government and friends she thought she knew turn against her and the ones she loves.
Simultaneously, Melissa’s attentiveness to the situation in Tiananmen Square as it unfolds and horrifies many around the world, captivates the reader as her desire to return to China threatens her closest relationships. Horko’s narrative aligns Melissa’s past love with her relationship with photo-journalist, Jerry. It becomes clear Melissa must be honest with Jerry about what really happened in China, if their relationship is to stand up to time and long distance.
Horko’s writing is sublime. Her characterisation is excellent, as she offsets Melissa with Liv, and Jerry with Jianguo, and her ability to transport the reader from different parts of the world matches her expansive historical and sociopolitical knowledge.
My only criticism, and there is only one, would be how the novel closes. The resolution felt unfinished for me. The epilogue wasn’t enough and in many ways I felt betrayed by the appearance of Jianguo’s rumoured younger brother, without hearing Melissa’s response to his arrival; considering she spent most of the story being ever inquisitive and not accepting anything but the truth.
Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed A Book of Changes and believe the two narratives were woven together exceptionally.